WOODSTOCK – Nearly two years after special prosecutors were appointed to investigate McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi, a judge acquitted him Tuesday on the last remaining counts of official misconduct.
Twice, Bianchi went to trial. Twice, the case ended in his favor before his defense team called a single witness.
“I said this for months, if not years, when they first started to investigate me, I was doing my job,” Bianchi said. “And I will continue to do my job.”
The judge made the decision as part of a directed verdict, saying that even in the light most favorable to the prosecution, they had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt – before the defense put on its case.
“These two prosecutors, these special prosecutors, ignored and overlooked the real role of a prosecutor, and that is to do justice,” Bianchi said.
The acquittal should encourage all other state’s attorneys to continue to do their jobs, he said.
“We will not stand for it,” Bianchi said. “We will do justice daily.”
Bianchi was indicted for a second time in February, accused of official misconduct for encouraging less prison time for a “nephew” of his chief investigator. In another charge, he allegedly pushed to drop a misdemeanor case against a politically connected doctor.
A third charge, which was dropped before the trial began Monday, alleged that Bianchi sought a bond reduction for a family member and delayed the case until his office started a first offender program.
“In each case, Mr. Bianchi had the case handled in the ordinary and customary way,” Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw said in his ruling.
He could not find that Bianchi had a duty to recuse himself. But even if Bianchi did have that ethical duty, it was not a violation of the law that he did not remove himself from the cases.
Instead, McGraw said that the proper recourse was a complaint with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
While McGraw said he didn’t necessarily agree with all the decisions that were made by Bianchi, prosecutors would be walking on eggshells worrying that they committed a felony if they, for example, did not properly turn over all material.
As state’s attorney, Bianchi has the discretion to decide whether charges are filed and what they might be, McGraw said.
Bianchi’s decisions are entitled to receive public scrutiny, and it’s up to the voters to decide whether his stewardship of the office instills them with confidence, McGraw said.
At the request of Bianchi’s office, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate a former Bianchi secretary for taking documents she said proved that Bianchi had employees perform campaign work on county time.
That former secretary, Amy Dalby, pleaded guilty in June 2009 to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year of court supervision.
At Dalby’s request, in September 2009 McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham appointed retired Lake County Judge Henry Tonigan to investigate her allegations. McQueen was appointed as Tonigan’s assistant.
Bianchi and another secretary, Joyce Synek, were indicted about a year later, in September 2010, only to go to trial in March of this year and be acquitted of all charges against them.
But it wasn’t over – a second indictment accused Bianchi of official misconduct, as well as his chief investigator Ron Salgado. The charge against Salgado was dismissed in June, leaving Bianchi as the only defendant.
SFlb2nd indictment – Reid case
In the first count, Bianchi was accused of directing an assistant state’s attorney, Kirk Chrzanowski, to reduce a previously negotiated five-year sentence for now-20-year-old Jeremy Reid to four years.
Prosecutors alleged that Bianchi’s involvement was improper because Reid was Salgado’s nephew, although testimony showed that the relationship was more like stepgreat-uncle.
Chrzanowski said that Bianchi told him that four years was “acceptable” and that he saw Bianchi give a nod toward Reid’s family in the courtroom on the day the plea went through.
Reid’s mother, Tiffany Albrecht, testified that Bianchi only informed them what was going to happen. She said he did not make any comments about “Uncle Ron” pulling strings in the case.
Salgado watched the trial and said that he had become immune to his name being mentioned over and over again.
“I knew that nothing had been done improperly in our office, so I sat in court to show my support for Lou,” he said.
2nd indictment – Salvi case
Crystal Lake police charged Dr. Thomas Salvi with disorderly conduct after he allegedly approached a 27-year-old woman in June 2010 and asked whether he could undress for her. Bianchi’s office dismissed the charge after the alleged victim agreed in exchange for a letter of apology and a promise that Salvi would seek counseling.
Salvi, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully in 2000 against state Rep. Jack Franks for the 63rd District seat and comes from a family with a background in politics. He is the brother of McHenry County Board member Barbara Wheeler and former state Rep. Al Salvi, a Republican who failed in 1996 to win a bid for U.S. Senate.
Demetri Tsilimigras, deputy chief of the criminal division, testified that Bianchi sent him to speak with the woman involved in the case, but that he was only to find out whether she wanted to proceed with the case or how she wanted prosecutors to proceed.
“He said if she wants to go to trial, we’ll go to trial, and I agreed with him on that,” Tsilimigras said.
The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that it cannot be refiled, but Tsilimigras said it didn’t matter because they hadn’t planned to charge Salvi again anyway.
McQueen argued that Bianchi was not being honest with Tsilimigras about his relationship with the Salvis, whom he knew from the community and with whom he attended the same church. Bianchi should not have been involved with the case at all, McQueen said.
“If Mr. Bianchi told Mr. Tsilimigras and kept out of the case entirely, he wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “Justice cannot be administered properly when there is not transparency.”
After Bianchi’s acquittal, Tsilimigras said he was glad it was all over.
“We can again focus on the work of the State’s Attorney’s Office,” he said.
The only thing Bianchi said he would do differently is not make a phone call.
After Salvi was charged, Bianchi called him to express his sympathy for the bad publicity surrounding the case.
“[Terry Ekl] asked me, ‘Why would you call him?’ and I said I felt sorry for him,” Bianchi said. “I wouldn’t probably make that call, I’d maybe call his lawyer.”
Ekl, Bianchi’s attorney, said that the prosecution proved “literally nothing.” The indictment was defective both factually and legally, which means that the charges never should have been brought, he said.
“These special prosecutors have abused their position, and they’ve abused their authority,” Ekl said.
At one point, both Tonigan and McQueen had requested to withdraw from the case, citing threats by Ekl to file lawsuits against them. The judge declined their requests, saying that it would set the wrong precedent, although McQueen took over the second case and Tonigan was not present for the trial.
“Over the next week or so, Lou and I will be sitting down talking about various remedies that we can engage in,” Ekl said. “We are going to look at all aspects of what occurred here, and we’re going to decide if we’re going to initiate legal action.”